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Jackson, Wyoming: The “whole” of it

Taggart Lake sits at 6,900-feet with a Grand Teton reflection at the foot of Avalanche Canyon. “Dude ranches boasted a classless society full of class, where the swagger of Western horsemen blended on equal terms with the swagger of adventurous, anti-conventional Eastern aristocracy.
— Nathaniel Burt

Barb and I just returned from a week in Grand Teton National Park and Teton Village resort in Jackson, Wyoming. Let me remove any doubt: the experience is preposterous in natural grandeur, upscale comforts with pure cowboy flavor. Many townsmen wear cowboy boots; few really need them.

We are hikers, and God provided a palette of sun, blue skies, crystal clear and reflective lakes. Despite some national park road closings, we clambered through the back country to enjoy the many lakes and trails in the Grand Tetons. Of special note was our passage around Jenny Lake and a climb to Taggart Lake. “Kodak moments” were everywhere – murmuring brooks mere steps away and the air scented with sweet balsam. It’s why we hike.

Unknown to most and distinctly separate, Teton Village ski resorts offer some of the toughest, extreme skiing terrain in North America. The ski slopes attract the best of the best, Olympians and those who aspire. Many lifts serve the 2,500-acre mountain, but one to see is the Jackson Hole Aerial Tram. Manufactured in Switzerland, the massive transport with cars carries up to 100 people each. The ride up is nine minutes long with almost a mile of vertical rise. Up top, tundra conditions prevail, but the views in every direction are mesmerizing.

Joe and Barb Gschwendtner enjoy hiking in Jackson, Wyoming.

Jackson is alternatively called Jackson Hole – hole meaning “valley” in trapper speak – and has a history similar to Douglas County. First came the mountain men, among them Jim Bridger and Jedediah Smith – known hunters, trappers and frontiersmen. The pelts ran out at about the same time as the rumors of precious metals filled the air. When nothing materialized, ranchers filled the void. But high altitude and challenging climate dictated that only big ranches could survive. Early holdings were consolidated and big spreads became the norm.


Since Jackson’s natural beauty was compelling, it began attracting many city slickers seeking a genuine country experience. Dude ranches grew in popularity, giving the more well-to-do a chance to sample life in the saddle. The JY Dude Ranch was the first to open in 1906. Not coincidentally, the tourist trade helped ranchers who were trying to make it in a roller coaster industry with cattle prices, fickle weather and economic conditions.

A different direction was taken by homesteader Charles Wort, who with wife Luella, came to Jackson in 1893. He saw a future unfolding, earlier than most, acquiring additional lots in the city center and establishing a livery enterprise, catering to the needs of visitors. He established the Wort Hotel and eventually the Silver Dollar Bar, both the “in” places to stay and have a sip.

Jackson’s tranquility became well known, helping to grow a tourist trade as our nation came out of the Great Depression and discovered a concept called “vacation.” Rather than be swept along with the tide of modernization in the late 20th century, Jackson put local culture ahead of rapid development.

Nothing symbolizes its thrust better than two downtown elements. At each corner of town park are the Elk Arches of Jackson, first constructed in 1953. More pictures are taken here than anywhere else, likely millions! Jackson has also retained its wooden sidewalks. If you wear boots, you’ll even sound like a cowboy. And those who revel in shopping will arrive in paradise!

Some final tips: Coffee or brunch with fresh fare at Persephone’s Bakery is excellency defined. Dine at Snack River Grill, likely “best of show.” We have found few restaurants that rival its quality, service and imaginative cuisine. Reservations are a must.

Article and photos by Joe Gschwendtner



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